Dust2 is set to debut at IEM Sydney
Both IEM Sydney and ESL Pro League's Season 7 Finals are set to use Dust2 in place of Cobblestone, mirroring Valve's change to the Active Duty map pool which finally came to fruition on Friday following months of community speculation as to what map would see removal.
Active Duty map pool changes mark major shifts in the professional scene's meta, seeing teams rise and fall from grace as they look to rebuild their map pool around the new addition. Such was the case with the removal of Train, Nuke, and Inferno, the last of which affected the majority of squads as most teams were willing to play it — often resulting in Inferno being a third map decider for some of the best series we've seen to date. Inferno's readdition to the map pool back in February quickly saw the map reclaim its unrivaled position as the ideal decider in series play.
Cobblestone, in comparison, is a rather unique change in that the map has fallen out of favor for a number of the top crop of teams over the past year, with the likes of FaZe and Astralis consistently removing it from play as their first bans.
Akin to the original version of Nuke shortly before it was removed, Cobble still sees play in premier tournaments as it is picked predominantly by teams who are specialists on the map — namely Space Soldiers, fnatic, and North, as of late. The majority of remaining top teams remove it on their second ban rotation unless they play one of the specialist squads, where the veto becomes a little less predictable, and tends to see teams move Cobble to their first rotation ban.
Other teams that formerly gravitated towards Cobble as their first pick have also moved away from doing so, although roster changes played a part in the switch-up for some teams such as SK and Cloud9. Now that it has been removed, the veto phase will see a shift as teams look to take advantage of those who may be slow on the uptake for a new map's addition.
With Dust2 set to debut in the professional circuit at IEM Sydney, unprepared teams are now left to scramble together strategies and restructure their vetoes before the start of the tournament in a week. Although the map will likely be favored by underdogs and shied away from by favorites, Sydney marks the first opportunity to see teams on the new map, and how it may affect their veto phases.
Theres no ideal timing to add a new map. All pros knew this map would be in the pool, could have prepared long ago if they wanted to. 🤗— dennis (@denniscsgod) April 24, 2018
Some teams will inherently benefit from the removal of one of their permanent bans, while others see one of the few maps in their pool stripped from under them. Here, I take a look at the premier teams that are most affected by the map pool change, and how they may deal with it on their trip down under.
Astralis — finally a seven map pool?
The DreamHack Masters Marseille champions are set to receive a massive boon to their map pool as they come off a dominant run in France, granting them a window of time to capitalize off of as they look to solidify their status as the #1 team in the world — a status that has eluded them since June of 2017.
Cobblestone has been Astralis' permanent ban for most of the team's lifespan, seemingly a map that is not favored by the core roster of Nicolai "dev1ce" Reedtz, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen, and Andreas "Xyp9x" Højsleth. Although both the karrigan and Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander-led rosters briefly endeavored to integrate the map at various points, lackluster results promptly saw the team resort to banning the map once again.
In gla1ve's case, the addition of Cobblestone was an attempt to provide the team their pick of the litter in veto phases as their roster at the time was able to compete at a top level on the other six maps. With Cobble finally seeing its way out of the active circuit, its more than likely that the Danish roster will look once again to round out their pool of maps with Dust2, putting them even further ahead of other squads as they look to add more trophies to their cabinet.
The former Astralis squad with Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye were wholly willing to face teams on Dust2, winning on the map twice during their championship run for ELEAGUE's first Major in Atlanta. Prior to that, the original Astralis/TSM squad with Finn "karrigan" Anderson and René "cajunb" Borg were notorious for putting up dominant performances on the map as well, with the latter player picking up the second AWP to hold catwalk from car becoming a new meta for holding down bombsite A.
The meta-game and manner in which Counter-Strike is played has shifted in many aspects since then, with teams evolving to have more structure and players tacking on to their personal skillset more than ever before. Secondary AWPers are more prevalent, players are comfortable filling various roles, and calculated aggression is employed by most top-level teams to shift up their gameplans round-to-round. The return of Dust2 will be interesting as teams look to apply new styles of play to a map that has had relatively few changes made.
dev1ce has notably come to life on the map in the past, and Emil "Magisk" Reif once put up stellar performances of his own for North in the few instances that it was played by the team. With greater depth to their game and more individual skill between them, both players could shine if the Danish team choose to adopt the map going forward. Dust2 lends itself to Astralis' famed style of map control on the T side, and if their recent performance in Marseille is an indication of adjustments that can be made by the team, the map could prove to be a fearsome back-burner pick in their arsenal.
FaZe — a much needed reprieve, or another rung on the climb down?
The other top tier team that should be ecstatic to see Cobble crumble from the map pool is — to no one's surprise — FaZe. Touted by many as the most individually skilled team in the world, the re-addition of the aim-heavy Dust2 definitely favors the European roster — but only if they are able to put a stop to their current downward spiral.
FaZe has seen its fair share of hardship after falling to Cloud9 in the grand finals of the ELEAGUE Major in Boston. A series that many analysts thought would grant karrigan his first Major championship went by the wayside after an overtime loss on Inferno, which began FaZe's descent from the top, and has led to where they sit now.
A semifinal finish at StarSeries gave way to yet another heartbreaking loss in the grand finals of IEM Katowice to fnatic, followed later in the month by a semifinal exit to a struggling Virtus.pro roster at V4 Future Sports Festival. This last event exit was by far the most shocking, as the team list for the event seemed like a mousesports versus FaZe final was all but guaranteed. Shortly after this loss, Olof "olofmeister" Kajbjer announced that he was stepping down from the active roster due to personal reasons, with no return date as of yet.
Now fielding Richard "Xizt" Landström in his stead, FaZe have been granted a stay of execution with the addition of Dust2 — karrigan infamously enjoys messing around in the veto phase to surprise teams, but having Cobblestone as a permaban has severely limited his options to only making unpredictable map picks for the past few years. Combine the removal of Cobblestone with Dust2 as a replacement, and FaZe's chances are looking up if their star aimers in Nikola "NiKo" Kovač and Håvard "rain" Nygaard can return to form.
Cobblestone has plagued karrigan and the FaZe roster for a number of years, with the Danish in-game leader seemingly never able to lead a roster to victory on the map. An outlier in FaZe's victory over Astralis at IEM Sydney in 2017 saw karrigan lull gla1ve into a false sense of security after a group stage victory on the map for the Danish squad, but losses to lesser rosters down the road saw Cobble make a swift departure from the European team's map pool.
Thus it is fitting that this year's IEM Sydney now plays host to the debut of Dust2, as FaZe's performance on the map over time will decide how their vetoes and map picks are done going forward.
NiKo's return in particular will be something to keep an eye on as he attempts to emulate his prior performances, and with Ladislav "GuardiaN" Kovacs in tow this time around, FaZe have a trio of stars that they can look towards if they hope to become a commanding force. If olofmeister is to also make a return to the roster, it's hard to imagine a team that could keep up with their raw firepower; however, their first objective will still be to regain their once-dominant form — and it remains to be seen whether Dust2 will act as a catalyst for this comeback, or further instigate a FaZe free-fall.
fnatic — a rug swept from under their feet
The Swedes of fnatic are easily the most negatively affected team at IEM Sydney with the removal of Cobble. Substituting what was often a first pick for the Maikil "Golden" Selim-led roster for Dust2, fnatic are set for a rough uphill climb as they search for a map to stabilize on in the pool.
Although previous fnatic lineups have willingly played the map, it was seldom a first pick for the team before the addition of Golden in August of 2017. After the arrival of the in-game leader the map rapidly became the team's go-to choice if their opponents neglected to veto it, leading to an 80% winrate on LAN over 15 maps with notable victories over G2, mousesports, Space Soldiers, and Na`Vi.
By proving that they were a force to be reckoned with on Cobble, fnatic forced many of their top-tier opponents to veto the map against them — giving the Swedes a massive advantage in the veto phase as team's vetoes and picks became far easier to read. While they may not have faced many opponents on the map, the departure of Cobble is set to seriously shake up a core map for fnatic, and it's replacement is one that may prove difficult for the team to integrate.
Ironically Dust2 is one of the classic maps that comes to mind when one thinks of fnatic, but the legacy set by the name may not be mirrored in this iteration of the team. A map that saw iconic moments for the roster's core now returns to the pool fielding two players who have yet to show their worth on the map. Jonas "Lekr0" Olofsson has considerable mechanical talent, and the aim-heavy style of the map may favor his individual game; however, his form on LAN has been lackluster against premier teams since fnatic's victory at IEM Katowice earlier this year.
Lekr0 will have to live up to his name if fnatic plan to integrate Dust2 into their pool. The 24-year-old will need to fill the shoes of olofmeister, who spearhelmed the attack for fnatic on the previous iteration of Dust2. Combined with Jesper "JW" Wecksell's middling AWP performances compared to his prior self, fnatic may struggle as they look to redefine their vetoes and integrate a new map into their pool with only a few weeks of preparation.
Their one saving grace is in that of Freddy "KRIMZ" Johansson, who's form over the course of the past few months has been nothing short of spectacular, and has helped aid the squad to many of their victories. If Robin "flusha" Rönnquist can step up to the plate alongside the bearded viking, fnatic have a shot to maintain their slot at the top of the rankings — if not, the state of their roster may return to unstable ground.
Cloud9, mousesports, and SK — a trio of uncertainty
The remaining three premier teams attending Sydney are a little harder to gauge. With both Cloud9 and SK recently undergoing roster changes, both teams are still in the process of restructuring their playstyles and identifying their new strengths and weaknesses.
Cobble has been a middle-ground map for both American teams, although the SK roster previously showed an affinity for the map in their earlier iteration — going so far as to claim it as their best map on numerous occasions. Although still a strong map for the squad, their performances have seen decline over time, and Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo has opted to move away from picking it on a number of occasions.
Cloud9 were never worldbeaters on Cobble themselves, and often chose only to pick it against lower-level opposition or as a power pick against teams who were weak on the map. It is unfortunate that the Pujan “FNS” Mehta-led roster won’t have the opportunity to develop with Cobble in the map pool, as FNS’ previous teams have shown considerable prowess on the map from a tactical standpoint, and Cloud9 could definitely have seen improvement with his leadership.
The European side of mousesports has shown a willingness to face teams on Cobble, but tend to veto the map in their second rotation of bans. In a similar vein to Cloud9, they are able to face lower-tier teams on the map and take them down with relative ease, but matches against Cobble specialists and top tier teams steers them towards defeat more often than not.
Dust2’s reintroduction will be a test for all three teams, and the lack of history for the rosters makes it difficult to gauge how any will perform. Cloud9 have lost one of their key playmakers from the first iteration of the map in Jake “Stewie2k” Yip, and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham was notorious for his style becoming predictable and easy to read for opponents on the map. If the North Americans hope to introduce Dust2 to their pool and become a dominant force, FNS will have to step up for the squad and attempt to design strategies based around setting Skadoodle up for success.
SK are on the receiving end of the Stewie2k transfer, and are probably the most favored out of the three teams to see success on the map. FalleN’s in-game leading always propelled the SK roster to close runs on the map, only falling short to the most aim-heavy teams of the time. With Stewie2k’s ability to be a little more loose and add a bit of North American flair to the Brazilian team's style, SK stand to gain ground with the addition of Dust2 should they resolve their growing pains and communication issues.
The hardest team to gauge between the three is mousesports. Current in-game leader Chris “chrisJ” de Jong became famous for his scout performances on the map, and Tomáš “oskar” Šťastný put up incredible performances on prior rosters; however, Robin “ropz” Kool has yet to debut on the map in professional play, and their other core star in Miikka “suNny” Kemppi only had the opportunity to face mid-tier and local Finnish teams on the map when it was last in rotation.
Despite half the roster’s inexperience on the map, Dust2 lends itself to mousesports’ overall style, and if ropz and sunNy prove to be capable on the map, the European roster could finally claim the #1 title they’ve sat just shy of in recent months.
IEM Sydney is set to run from May 1st-May 6th as 16 teams look to claim the lion’s share of $250,000. Dust2’s debut will see teams shift their vetoes towards different strengths to gain the upper hand — all that remains to be seen is which of the teams will come out on top.